No movie captures the essence of the New York City subway better than the 1974 flick The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The film stars Walter Malthau as the transit cop who must deal with Robert Shaw’s hijacking of a 6 train. The demands: One million dollars within an hour or the passengers get killed.
Joseph Sargent’s film, adobted by Peter Stone from a John Godey book, is a work of New York City history. It’s gritty and campy. It taps into the fears during the 1970s that the subways weren’t safe and that New Yorkers just didn’t really care. And in a great piece of political satire, the movie features a bumbling mayor trying to run away from the city’s problems. In a word (or three): Watch this movie (but not that dreadful remake from the late 1990s).
This movie is such a cult film among transit buffs that it has recently spurred this insanely long discussion on Subchat. Obviously, August of 2007 didn’t mark the debut of this film as a topic on the subway-centric message board. The threads have been too numerous to count, but this 2003 thread entitled the “Ultimate Guide to Pelham 1-2-3” is a classic.
Now, Hollywood’s at it again. Director Tony Scott is going to remake The Taking of Pelham One Two Three with Academy Award winner Denzel Washington starring as Zachary “Z” Garber, the role originally played by Walter Mathau. No word yet on who will play the terrorists, but I would guess we’ll see some familiar Hollywood-style terrorists threatening the city with a hijacked subway.
As you can see from this extensive thread on Subchat, feelings are running strong on this one. The original Pelham 1-2-3 drew some heat for taking some liberties with the way it presented the subway, and some contributors to the message board are urging Tony Scott to bring on some railfans as technical advisors. That’s sound advice; Scott shouldn’t distract New Yorkers, the film’s biggest target audience, with subway detail inaccuracies.
Meanwhile, I’m a little skeptical of this remake. What makes the original work is it’s place in time. It is, as I said, the quintessential view of 1970s New York City.
What would a 2000s New York City look like in a new version of Pelham 1-2-3? Would the automated voices apologize for the “unavoidable delay”? Would straphangers too zoned out on their iPods even blink? Would the hijackers be able to get inside and hijack an overcrowded train car on the East Side IRT these days anyway? Will the hijackers be your stereotypical set of Middle Eastern hijackers or would Tony Scott and his scribe David Koepp dare to be a little creative with their casting?
For those of us who live and breath the subways — or at least try to breath inside the subways — Mr. Scott will have to prove his subway mettle. We can only wait and wonder if he’s up to this monumental task.